This past week, we witnessed the horrific shooting rampage in Arizona that killed six people and injured thirteen others, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Our deepest sympathies go out to those families who lost loved ones and our heartfelt prayers to all those injured in this heinous attack.
On Monday we will celebrate the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, a national tribute to an incredible leader and visionary. I was born in 1969 and thus not alive prior to Dr. King’s assassination. I have read many of his writings and watched multiple videos of his speeches. He was a remarkable man who wanted our country and our world to understand the importance of tolerance and the beauty of diversity.
A short story. In 2004, my family was living in Atlanta and my children were in Jewish pre-school. As part of the pre-school curriculum (especially in Atlanta) the children learned about Dr. King and his struggle for civil rights and equality for all. The children became aware of who Dr. King was as a man and what he fought so hard to achieve. I will, however, never forget the unintended consequences of what they learned. In some way, their innocence was suddenly transformed. For the first time in these children’s lives they began to differentiate people based on the color of their skin, which they had never thought about before.
Dr. King once said, “I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” The word “character” can be defined in multiple ways. One suggested definition is “the combination of qualities or features that distinguishes one person, group, or thing from another.” Another definition is “moral or ethical strength.” Together, these two definitions highlight some of the challenges of openness within the Jewish community.
How open are we to those with diverse viewpoints? Think about the current (often challenging) dialogue about the State of Israel and its prospects for peace. Or, how some may view differences between the secular and religious communities? What about the challenges today of inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations? Federation’s Community Relations Committee and the Oregon Area Jewish Committee work hard to tackle these issues, bridge differences, and create positive dialogue. Only through real (and at times difficult) conversations can we expand our horizons and better understand different points of view.
I was moved by President Obama’s address Wednesday night at the Tucson memorial event where he stated, “At a time when our discourse has become so sharply polarized -- at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do -- it's important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.” There is so much we can learn from this statement in our own communal discourse.
What I have learned from people like Dr. King and leaders with whom I have worked is that the ones that have the most impact—the ones that tear down barriers and create social change—are those who immerse themselves in the work. They are the ones who engage themselves in their communities and create lasting bonds with the people. They are the ones who transform differences into an open dialogue of ideas, beliefs, and opportunities. We, too, can become leaders learning from selfless actions and community commitment.
Let us all be open to positive change.
PS – Do not forget to send in your “next great Jewish idea for Portland.” We have already received many interesting and wonderful ideas to date. Do not miss out on your opportunity to shape our community’s future and win $1800.